I was enjoying breakfast and some quality “girl time” with a few friends after our Saturday morning run when the conversation took a turn to body and diet—and the foods that seem to exist only to sabotage both. These conversations do little for anyone’s self-esteem and fall short of supporting the whole-body approach to wellness, which starts by feeling good in your own skin.
I sat back, listening to my friends bash their strong, fit, and truly feminine selves and realizing with sadness that not one of these intelligent and beautiful women was completely happy with her body despite the fact that it had just taken them on a beautiful trail run on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. Each friend criticized her own body’s imperfections, obvious only to herself, as needing improvement. I visualized it as a poker game: “I’ll see your flat stomach with my curly hair and big thighs.” Each one not seeing the beauty in themselves and envying something another disliked.
If the only way you think you will ever love your body is by changing it, think again. Wellness from the whole-body approach starts by accepting who you are right now, no apologies, and discovering who you are when all that obsession over food and body is stripped away. Because of years of conditioning by society’s image of beauty, this will not be a quick task. It will be a practice of acceptance, compassion, and gratitude.
Trust me. I have learned this both through studying and my own pitfalls. This is the way. Only when we are free of shame can we begin to stop looking at foods as cheating and let it be just eating. We can reset the relationship with food to one of nourishing what we want out of life instead of living for the next meal. Find something else to look forward other than food. Look for other solutions than food. Many set their schedules around meal time. Meal time is important but it doesn’t have to be the driver. Maybe gathering is the driver? Conversation? Celebration? all places food happes to be part of.
Approaching exercise and eating right from a place of acceptance in who you are is the first step and taking good care of yourself. Don’t wait for a number on a scale to begin appreciating your body for what it capable is of doing like walking, running, reproducing, or breathing and swallowing at the same time (a highly underappreciated skill)! Once you move beyond food and body image “overthink” so much time, energy, and space opens up for relationships, rest, hobbies, and noticing things outside your body more.
My morning running ladies in this story are all fit and nutrition savvy eaters. Everyone had strong beliefs around what they could and couldn’t eat: “I never eat butter, too much fat,”(Never butter! Not even a little bit?) “I feel so guilty when I eat pasta, so many carbs,” (Guilt over pasta? But it fuels your long runs?) It depresses me to hear women who generally have healthy habits most of the time associate shame and guilt with their food choices. We all deserve the pleasures of good food and healthy eating. Once we realize this, we are better able to savor foods and associate feelings of delight and satisfaction with moderate portions of foods that satisfy us without eating more calories than the body needs. Enjoyment of food that triggers shame leads to unnecessary restriction. When you treat yourself to an occasional pastry, take pleasure in each bite because you know it’s not a delicacy you choose often, especially if it is freshly baked from a favorite local bakery.
At this point in our discussion, I make a suggestion: “Let’s erase the beauty standard and start fresh! Delete all your fashion and fitness followings representing unrealistic, unhealthy notions of ideal beauty and perfect diets. Get rid of ideas of should and shouldn’t with food, and replace it with a more attainable and sustainable approach. Let’s set beauty standards that respect individuality and celebrate real, confident, and healthy women who exercise because it feels good, who eat whole and fresh because we enjoy it, and who eat cake when it best serves us. It’s one hundred percent right and not wrong to eat chocolate cake and ice cream without feeling guilty when you eat with a healthy dose of intention. You have too much good work to do to waste time with worry over the size of your jeans or a number on the scale.” The girls looked perplexed, as if this was an impossible goal. Then one friend spoke, “You know, we’d probably all be a lot happier.”
Adopting new standards and accepting yourself today will pay off immediately. In the short term, you will have more time for what is really important in life and less time to worry about never achieving some distorted standard. And ultimately, you will have more confidence and feel better about yourself most days.
But don’t expect the outlook to change overnight. Tomorrow an airbrushed visual will cross your feed and tempt you into feeling bad. Delete it. It isn’t even real. Don’t hold yourself to standards set by the latest beauty app. Do take steps to loving yourself, and over the long term, this road will lead to a happier, healthier you.
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